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  • My First Expedition to Africa

    So it had finally come about, the holiday that Kalistra and I had booked some ten months earlier to the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco. It would be fair to say that in the months prior to the trip I had been sceptical of what to expect as pretty much all I had heard from Kalistra was markets, markets, markets. Now I have nothing against Markets but I want a bit more if I'm going to be travelling nearly 2000 miles I would like a little more. Luckily there was plenty more.


    As usual with my holidays with Kalistra the journey starts at about 2am, waking up from about 3 hours sleep and making our way to the airport by any means possible and on this occasion it was by EasyBus. I understand that they make these things as 'efficient' as possible but really I think a five year old would have struggled to fit into those seats let alone a 6'4 bloke who could probably lose a few pounds. Despite the squeeze we made it to Gatwick North Terminal in plenty of time, checked in and even had a cheeky Weatherspoons breakfast before hotfooting it to Gate 105. The Plane journey was particularly uneventful, I tried to sleep, I couldn't. We landed at approximately 8:30am local time, my initial thoughts were the weather is hot but not as unbearable but then I took another look at the clock, 8:30am ahh.. Anyway we checked in and saw our man holding the sign for Riad Abhar, the place we were staying. We got into the car and after a few seconds his phone rang, the familiar sound of Psy's Gangnam Style, this though was the last feeling of familiarity I would have for a while. As soon as we got out of the Airport car park it was clear to see that the Moroccan's had a, lets say, different attitude towards road safety there appeared to be no road markings, no traffic lights and a clearly excessive horn usage policy. It really was a free for all as far as driving, cars and mopeds weaving in and out of each other sometimes one vehicle across, sometimes 3 or 4 depending on how fast people were deciding to travel, it was crazy. The taxi dropped us off at the Main Square known locally as Jemaa El Fna and before we had even got out of the Taxi an elderly gent with a cart was offloading our bags and beginning to walk away with them. We didn't really question and just followed this man through the increasingly narrowing streets of Marrakech's Souk (Market) district. 603648_10151583560500519_1826910603_n.jpgWe were following for about 5 minutes when the streets became empty, dark and very narrow it was a little concerning but then he stopped and knocked on a large door, as soon as it opened we saw the Riad as it looked in all the pictures.

    We had properly arrived and I could begin to enjoy my holiday. We were greeted by Abdul the Riad manager who gave us some Moroccan tea poured from a great height as is the tradition, he explained to us what was on offer, a number of tours two of which we decided to take him up on and also various massage experiences which we will go into later. We took the bags up to the room and got ourselves settled. 390986_10151583554175519_274208636_n.jpgThe room was beautiful from the 10ft tall door to the four poster bed it was magnificent. 

    We took our first excursion into the town just after 11am to take a little look around and a spot of lunch planning to return in time for our Hamam massage at 3 o'clock. At this point I should point out that my poor forward planning meant that I had not brought a map with me on this holiday and despite my best efforts I could not find one at the airport. We wandered through and almost immediately had people shouting their prices at us for their various nik-naks. Kalistra took an interest in a tea set which we decided was something to buy more towards the end of the holiday, suffice to say we never found that place again. We carried on walking eventually finding our way back to the main square where we found a nice place with a roof terrace to have our first meal of the holiday. It was nice but nothing special (luckily the food got WAY better). We looked around the square and surrounding areas a bit more before heading back towards the Riad, the question was which direction was that.. 305742_10151583554210519_235392109_n.jpgThis is why I mentioned the map, neither of us had been paying the slightest bit of attention to which direction we had come and so inevitable we became hopelessly lost within the Souks. Each narrow path way with market stalls on each side looked exactly as the last and it was probably half an hour before I gave in and we asked someone for directions. Luckily the locals were friendly and spoke superb English, unluckily they each said that there were hundreds of Riads in Marrakech and they had no idea where our particular one was. We weren't disheartened yet but it didn't take long and then one man said he knew and we followed him through areas that didn't look familiar, through the blacksmith district where people were welding in the middle of the street, the flames licking perilously close to the ankles of passers by. 935401_10151583560130519_1214888748_n.jpgIt became apparent that this man was not leading us to our Riad at all but to an entirely different place that he thought we had said. It was a wool and dye merchants. It was filled with beautiful scarves of silk and cashmere and we had an enlightening lesson on which powders made which colours (it was never the ones we guessed, red made blue, brown made green it was genuinely interesting) but it was not what we wanted. We tried explaining the man again and he apologised for his mistake and we went off following him again, picking up a number of other helpful locals along the way. This time he took us to an internet cafe and they printed out a picture of our place we knew we were getting close to the goal. We followed for a further 5 minutes before getting back to the Riad we were definitely both relieved. We gave the man a hefty tip for his help and then they were on their way and we were back at pretty much 3 o'clock on the dot, we sat down and a lady came up to us and said 'Hamam?'

    A little stressed at the events just previous I would have happily missed out on this and just chilled at the hotel for a bit but Kalistra said that she had researched this and it would be very relaxing. I believed her, I shouldn't have. We followed this woman just down the road and into a building, we sat down and waited. We were directed into separate rooms with it being a strict Muslim country there was a lot of separation with this kind of thing. I was led into a room by a short moustachioed man and prompted to remove my clothes, I hadn't had time to change into my swimming trunks so I just remained in my underwear, I tried to tie a towel around my waste but the man shook his head. I was then led into a steam room where I sat down. The man left me there and I thought fine this is nice, I will relax here for a bit.. Oh no, I didn't get away that easily, the man returned with a bucket of water and a cup. The man spoke no English so although he did say something to me I didn't understand it, he then started throwing water over me. When he stopped he pointed at the bench and prompted me to lie down, more water I thought.. Oh no, I didn't get away that easily, out of the corner of my eye I saw him putting on a dark mitt.. my heart started racing and not in a good way. The Moustachioed man then began to scrub me all over with some sort of soap, first my back and my neck, then my legs and then lifting the band of my boxer shorts gave my buttocks a scrub. He then signalled me to turn over, Oh God, I was now getting worried, he scrubbed my stomach and the front of my legs before lifting the band of my boxers again.. One quick scrub down either side of my front and there it was one of the most awkward moments of my life! The man then left the room and me lying there in a state of shock not knowing whether or not to move, after five or so minutes I sat up still confused. The man returned with two more buckets of water, my heart started racing again, What now? He got some lukewarm water and cleaned off the remaining soap before throwing the remains of the bucket of water over my head. He then took to the second bucket, splashed me with some, just enough for me to feel that it was pretty cold before he then through that over me too. It was over, he led me back to the original room where I was handed a towel and a gown. I got dressed minus my sodden underwear and went back to the lobby where I was given some tea before shortly reuniting with Kalistra who told me she'd had a similar ordeal. We thanked everyone concerned before awkwardly making our way back to the Riad nervously giggling the whole way.

    We did little else that evening, partly though fear, partly through exhaustion from starting the day at 2am. We had a lovely chicken tagine dinner in the hotel which was far superior to the meal we'd had at lunch and then we retired to our room for the night.

  • A Letter From America

    That title is a little decieving as I am writing this blog as I would write any other from a chair in front of my computer in good old London town, it is fact a reference to a song by The Proclaimers and introduces a blog that I am going to write about my trip to said country.


    Now that we have the formalities out of the way I shall just jump straight to Heathrow airport at 10:30am Monday September 5th 2011 a group of 6 Londonites including myself sit down to a hearty Full English breakfast knowing that it would probably be our last good meal for 10 days. That was not true the meals out there were distinctly mixed but more on that later. We got the call that our plane was boarding and thus we headed to the gate. 9 1/2 hours of leg crushing boredom and that was only to Atlanta, it would be another 4 1/2 to the final destination of San Francisco. Again my pessimism wasn't totally called for the flights were fairly harmless due to a number of films and inflight games. 

    We arrived in SF at 10pm ish local time which was about 6am UK time and thus obviously we went straight to the nearest pub to christen our trip. It was pleasant, we played pool with some gay Mexicans and then went to bed (not with the gay Mexicans I shall add).

    Day 2 we descended on Fisherman's wharf, booked ourselves an Alcatraz trip for the Thursday, found ourselves a nice place to eat lunch (Burger #1) and found a $10 boat tour. Captain Hans showed us round the Bay including Pier 39, the seals, a harbour, Alcatraz from a distance and the fog covered Golden gate bridge. He also gave us a quick talk about the San Fran skyline and mentioned Telegraph hill. Who knows whether it was because it was the last thing we had heard or something we genuinely wanted to do but we next went to Telegraph hill and climbed Coit tower. There were some very beautiful views, unfortunately not of the bridge due to the fog but that wasn't the end of the world. We thought, its early lets walk back to our motel, 2 hours and 2 hills later (slight exageration) we got to a pub and had a few refreshers before continuing the final 15 minute walk to 2232 Lombard. What to do after such an exhausting day? Drink! we did a bit of a crawl on Chestnut street, first O'Donaghue's where we first discovered the joys of no optics for the spirits. We trundled along to the Horse shoe, played some pool, team Ant & Helen managed to win 3 games on the trot all by default and then we left for our final destination of the night, the highly recommended Tipsy Pig. It was alright, nothing truly out of the ordinary but we carried on getting drunk talked to some girls from Woking and then walked home.

    Day 3 was Baseball day, unfortunately the Giants were out of town for the week so we had to settle for the Oakland A's. It didn't matter, the home team were on top form a 9-0 win and an almost perfect game for the Oakland pitcher, I may have to take the blame for the non perfect game as I did jinx it about a minute before he got hit at the top of the 8th. We headed back to Pier 39 after the game and had a nice Italian dinner before retiring back to the hotel to get changed ready for the evening's festivities. Again it involved drinking but this time it was for a reason it was the joint 'Bachelor/Bachelorette' party. (at this stage it would probably be a good idea to point out the reason I was in San Fransisco, one of my friends, a Mr. Michael Lewis was to wed Miss Megan Vandermeer in the Golden State and thus we all came along for the ride. More on that later) The party was to be held at Foley's Piano Bar, a great venue where we saw two camp and yet fairly hetrosexually risqué bald men on 'dueling pianos' taking requests from the audience as long as it hit the charts before the year 2000. It was a good night where we met friends and family from both sides of the wedding party and again got good and sozzled. Personal highlights would have to include the bride and groom to be dancing to heads, shoulders, knees and toes (and boobs and bum) and the rare occasion that they did a newer hit, Beyonce's single ladies, not for the song so much as the extraordinary dance performed my Megan's sister. Anyway as I said we got drunk and as usual after that we went home.

    Day 4 was to be the day of Alcatraz Island. We caught the boat at 12 and were at the island about a quater hour later. The tour started with a 15 minute video describing the history both pre and post penitentiary and then for some reason a little speech on the 'amazing' wildlife that could be found on the Island, I will get this out of the way now, the wildlife as I saw it was a couple of pink flowers and a load of dead seagulls rotting away and leaving a fairly awful stench, for me nothing to shout about. After the video we walked up the hill to the retired prison and put on our audio tour headphones and made our way round the prison. It was a truly excellent tour whether it was stories of individual prisoners such as the birdman or escape attempts such as 'the battle of Alcatraz' or the infamous 'escape from Alcatraz' which I believe is depicted in a Clint Eastwood film although I haven't seen it. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. What happened next was certainly not, the highly anticipated 'Rocketboat' tour. It claimed to be only for thrill seakers and warned you not to take the ride if you suffered with high blood pressure or heart problems. I'm quite confident that if you suffered either you would have no problem whatsoever, it was apart from one wave one of the smoothest rides I have ever been on and admitedly it went fairly fast I would deffinitely not call it thrilling and at only $2 cheaper than the Alcatraz tour I would have to say the biggest con in America. We were all on the tired side that evening and so retired to our rooms for a quiet night.

    Day 5 was among the least eventful although it did start with a great breakfast at a Diner where we had the most amazing milkshakes you are ever likely to encounter. Apart from that though we spent the majority of the day travelling to Courte Madeira (near San Raphael) on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge in preperation for Saturday's wedding. We did get a few beers from the local supermarket and played some cards and had a lovely meal at the Brick and Bottle restaurant, one of the better meals of the holiday but apart from that it was a very quiet day.

    Day 6 the day of the wedding. In this hotel we had a mini apartment for 5 of us, (Shane was in the Groom's room as he was best man) it was lovely but there was only one shower and so getting dressed took a while. The ceremony started at 2pm at the local Episcopal church and was beautiful from entrance to the exchanging of rings. We then set off to the 'Rod and Gun club' for the reception it was a very impressive venue with a sea view to the right and rolling mountains to the left. One of the first acts we partook in was a photobooth (apparently an American thing) where we all dressed in ridiculous costumes and took a group photo - I look forward to seeing the result. Then the food, or should I say the starters a mixture of fish, meatballs, cheese and vegetables which probably would have sufficed for most main meals, needless to say it was delicious. We of course made use of the free bar tab which I am sure Megan's dad would not thank us for but it deffinitely made it even better. Me, Shane and Helen tried our first oysters which were more pleasant than I was expecting largely because i only tasted the sauce rather than the fish. at approximately 5:30 we were seated ready for the main meal, I was sat next to Blondie and one of Mike's cousins, a good table it has to be said despite the fact that at one point we were told to look happier by the maid of honour. The dinner consisted of Beef, Chicken and vegetables and was again very tasty. After the meal came the speeches which were all heart felt but a special mention has to be made for Shane's best man speech, a moment he had been dreading since he had been given the position. He carried it out with applomb and deservedly got a big round of applause. After this the evening starts getting hazier and hazier as of course we were still making use of that free bar but the essential bits that I do remember were lots of dancing, some wonderful Karaoke, highlights being Chris' rendition of Never Walk Alone and Angelica's Whitney Houston (angelica being the wedding singer/friend of Megan so it was cheating really) the lowlight probably was mine and Tate's rendition of Beyonce which is unsurprising but it was enjoyable nevertheless. And then a strange decision, shots. I did a tequilla shot.. this is not a good idea at the best of times and so within half a minute I could be found in the mens loos reaquainting the tequilla with the outside world. After that the next thing I really remember is waking up the morning after. I don't doubt though that the whole party was a roaring success. 


    Day 7 I leave a little more space in this because this really is a seperate part of the holiday as it begins the road trip. After spending 5 days in the San Francisco area we would spend the next 4 travelling down the West coast. The first stop was to be Santa Barbara, partially for its beauty, partially as a stop off point so that the drivers didn't have to go too far in one go. We arrived in the early evening on what was supposed to be a quiet night after the wedding.. it wasn't we found ourselves drinking all night in a bar playing various drinking games. We did manage to get one free drink from a guy who was clearly a club rep, we went to the club where he invited us had a free drink and then left again and found another bar. A strange one this as the floor was covered in peanut shells, quirky? yes, a selling point? I'm not entirely sure but anyway we stayed there until closing before making our way back to the hotel.

    Day 8 we had a couple of hours on the beach in Santa Barbara taking in the scenery and we would have hired out a speed boat bit unfortunately it was a bit too foggy. In the grand scheme of things this wasn't the end of the world as it meant we would leave for our next destination sooner, Las Vegas. Vegas was probably (bar the wedding) the thing I was looking forward to most about my trip to America. Again we got in early evening after a monotonous 350 mile trip through the desert along route 15. We were staying in the strip's Flamingo hotel so we went upstairs to get suited up as you do in Vegas when we got a call from Dave and Helen, the lucky buggers had been upgraded to the 'Bermuda Suite' a MASSIVE room on the top floor with a gorgeous view of the city, it wasn't fair but anyway onto the evening. We started by watching the Belagio's magnificent fountains before swiftly moving into a casino, we started in Caesar's Palace and plonked ourselves in front of a roulette table. We all gave in $40 and started playing, Shane and Helen both struck out fairly quickly where as me and Tate were doing well. I personally had doubled my chips within the first hour unfortunately that is where my luck ran out and by the end of the 2nd hour I was out of that table. Tate though was up towards the $300 mark. Dave and Tate stayed at that table and the rest of us left to find other pastures in hope of some better luck. It didn't come, we settled back at the roulette table in the Flamingo. Luckily at that table the free drinks were coming quite thick and fast and so we got Dave and Tate to join us. The night rolled on and I was getting closer to $200 down and everyone else was hitting similar lows apart from Tate and Dave. We decided to call it a night at about 6am and had some cigars (extremely unpleasant) as Tate had come out of Vegas with a profit and then made our way back to our rooms for all of 4 hours before we had to check out. 

    Day 9 involved us sludging around the streets of Las Vegas still half asleep hitting up a French restaurant in the Paris Hotel for a big brunch being part of a street magic show which filmed Dave's incompetence with cards dropping half the pack and then a quick ride on the New York New York rollercoaster which although overpriced was very enjoyable. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go the top of the stratosphere hotel which has some more rides but we did have quite a tight schedule. I still am not entirely sure if I enjoyed Las Vegas, not just because of the money that I lost but the brashness of the place. There were advertisments for prostitution and guns on the sides of cars and the city only has casinos, beds and skyscrapers. I think it is something you have to do once but whether or not I would go again I am not sure. Anyway we headed back across the desert and to Los Angeles, as we left quite late we didn't get to LA until gone 9pm. We had a quick freshen up and then off to have a meal, the WORST meal I had in America, I went with the philosophy of 'when in Rome' and tried the meatloaf, mushy meat is literally all it is, never before have I described broccoli as the highlight of a meal. We had a quick drink in a local bar but then retired fairly early to bed.

    Day 10 our last in America so what do you do? You go and see the Hollywood sign. We all stood as close to it as we could and had our pictures taken before trundelling back down into the town and looking at the stars on the pavement of Hollywood Boulevard, there are literally hundreds of them, the majority being people that I have never heard of, my personal favourites were Henry Winkler (the Fonz and more importantly Barry Zuckercorn from Arrested Development) and Dick Van Dyke whose name needs no introduction. We tried to look into the Kodak theatre the home of the Oscar's but that was largely sectioned off and apart from putting my hand into the print made by Arnold Schwarzenegger's unhealthily big hands that was it for LA. It isn't really that much of a tourist city which sounds strange for a place which hosts the world film industry. We headed back and spent a little time on Redondo beach but that was pretty much it. We retired to bed early as we had to be up at 4am the next morning in order to get to the airport in time for our 9am flight from LAX. 

    We got back to England more than 24 hours later when you take into account time difference and then that was it, my American experience was over apart from the jet lag which is still playing with my brain 3 days later. It was an amazing holiday, expensive but amazing and I would like to think I would revisit the area again one day but I don't see myself crossing the Atlantic again any time soon, I've got Europe to conquer first. 


    So there we have it nearly a year since my last blog here and thats what you get a mamoth account of a holiday and no insight into anything else. All I can say is that this holiday has been a massive highlight in what all in all has been a massively shit year. Over and Out




  • Back from up north

    I forgot to mention on me last blog the most important thing... i had just comw back from my spiritual homeland, Newcastle - well to me more specific the small town of Birtley near Newcastle.

    A great week meeting family.. going to the england footy match, day trip to edinborough, plus various other activities. Oh the fun!

    bought 3 cds whilst in newcastle (new feature im gonna put in my blogs, when i buy new cds, i can hear the cheering already)

    Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Mornig
    The Thrills - Lets Bottle Bohemia
    The Manic Street Preachers - Greatest Hits